Category Archives: NI Assembly

Democratic in name alone #equalmarriage

Today is the morning after a momentous day.

For the first time ever a majority of Northern Irish legislators in either a Westminster or Stormont vote have actually voted in favour of some step towards LGBT+ equality. Yes with 53 in favour and 51 against yesterday the rights of LGBT+ individuals reached a tipping point as never before.

Sadly of course this tipping point also simultaneously gave Northern Ireland an unwelcome entry into the record books. The Assembly yesterday became the first Legislature in the World to vote in favour of marriage equality while simultaneously blocking the same Legislature from progressing that equality measure. The reason of course if the so called “Democratic” Unionist Party (DUP).

In the past the DUP have argued that there was a need for a petition of concern because there was not majority support for marriage equality within the general population. This of course is not an opinion that has been borne out in independent scientific polling evidence in recent years.

Now their Chief Whip the North Down MLA Peter Weir says:

“If it requires a process of attrition to alter a result it does not demonstrate a great deal of force behind the argument.”

However, that is not the case through history. A process of attrition led to the abolition of slavery. Rights for workers. Votes for women. Non conformist emancipation from the established church. Devolution/Home Rule for (Northern) Ireland and Scotland. Civil rights for Jews, Blacks and Roman Catholics and indeed the legalisation of homosexuality. The fact that Peter Weir uses that argument against yesterday’s vote in the NI Assembly shows an ignorance of political history and disrespect of how minorities have always had to get their place as equals recognised by those with privilege.

The DUP are not Democratic, yesterday they have blocked progress a mantra of their newest MLA Emma Pengilly. She is in quite a different position from the UUP’s newest MLA Andy Allen who not only was the only of his party to vote in favour but also made an excellent speech laying out his position.

Yesterday was a morale victory which the LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland and their families and friends will have to remember when if comes to the ballot in the next year for a new Assembly. It also means that the DUP have given additional strength to the argument for a judicial review into the unequal state of marriage across the UK and island of Ireland. Now it is not being blocked by a majority vote in the Assembly but by a Petition of Concern being used to keep a minority less equal.

To all those MLAs who have come along a journey on the five votes in the Assembly we want to say thank you. We know you have been getting a lot of emails and letters from both sides of this debate and taken your time to weigh up what is right. It has not been attrition but good old fashioned lobbying, something that is a democratic right of the people in our nation to ask their representative for a fair and honest hearing of their views. Sadly it is a part of grown up politics that the DUP do not seem to acknowledge but it is something that Northern Ireland needs as we move forward.

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Jim Wells’ comments in last night’s hustings

Firstly all of those at LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland want to say we are glad to have read the news in the Belfast Telegraph the other day that Mrs Grace Wells is recovering from the rare condition that affected her a short while ago. We wish her all the best in the future and understand the strain this may have put Jim Wells under.

However, if he was really under a lot of stress looking after his wife it should surely have been grounds for him not to put himself under further stress on top of being an MLA and Health Minister to seek election to Westminster. We are putting this up front as Jim Wells in a statement issued last night (see below) mentioned personal stress in recent weeks.

It is this series of comments from last night’s hustings in South Down that has brought this to a head:

Jim Wells

The comments can be viewed in video clips online.

Must horrifying of all with a raucous crowd to the last part about abuse, he immediately sets out to repeat his comments as clarification that he had said them and wanted them to be heard

The last of the sequence is that one that caused the uproar but comments have been made by members of the DUP that they have been taken out of context to the early comments about haranguing Christians and being insatiable lead up to the one about abuse of children by those in homosexual relationships.

There are over 1,200 children currently in care in Northern Ireland as the result of being victims of abuse. Is Mr Wells therefore saying that over 600 of these are from the result of having two carers of the same sex? Note we did not say parents as currently he is not allowing same-sex couples to adopt here despite a court ruling that the law should be changed to allow this. The facts of course are that very few of those children are there as a result of same-sex parents from come from homes with a father and mother involved in their upbringing.

In context of course Mr Wells had previously said that all who took part in Pride were repugnant, this was long before his wife’s current illness.

Mr Wells comments about abuse also seem to flow his comments about the victim of a rape who becomes pregnant in 2014 he said:

“That is a tragic and difficult situation but should the ultimate victim of that terrible act [rape] – which is the unborn child – should he or she also be punished for what has happened by having their life terminated? No.”

There seems to be no realisation that the ultimate victim of any unwanted sexual encounter is the woman who has suffered. It is her body that has been violated, her emotions that have become distraught, her rights that have been abused. It leads to the question does the Health Minister really understand abuse in any situation.

Mr Wells also during the break between the first debate and vote on equal marriage in Stormont was in front of one of members, whom he had meet before, in the restaurant. When the member said hello and was about to ask how his wife and family were, was shunned by Mr Wells with the comment “Oh, you’re one of them!” before he turned heel and ended the civil on the part of our member’s conversation.

Here is Mr Wells’ response after the hustings debate last night:

“The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for me personally. I had just come from a hospital visit and my focus was not on the debate. Indeed, during the event I received several messages from the hospital.

“I have listened to a recording of the relevant part of the debate. I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern amongst members of the audience and beyond. I regret having wrongly made that remark about abuse and I’m sorry those words were uttered. The comment did not reflect my view nor that of my party.

“Within seconds of realising this error, I asked the Chairman to let me back in and twice corrected my remarks before the debate moved on. This clarification has been confirmed by the journalists present at the event. Partial clips, spin and selective reporting regrettably miss this.

“The neglect or abuse of children is awful and happens in unstable relationships whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. I make no distinction between anyone who neglects or abuses a child regardless of their sexual orientation. I trust people will accept my explanation and my apology.”

If we give Mr Wells the benefit of the doubt over the first sentence we would like to ask why has he made the past few weeks and next couple even more difficult for himself by standing for election in another legislature at this difficult personal time. Clearly this thought wasn’t to the forefront of his mind when he signed the papers allowing himself to be nominated as the DUP candidate for South Down.

But on the matter of an issue such as abuse which falls under his Health and Social Care remit he should surely be aware of the sensitive nature of his comments and the facts about the situation here in Northern Ireland. While he has the right to say he is opposed to same-sex marriage he does not have the right to make up statistics, facts and vilify every lesbian, gay or bisexual person in Northern Ireland in doing so.

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Response to Conscience Clause Bill

Response to the consultation on the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill
on behalf of
Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats
and
LGBT+ Liberal Democrats

The following is the response of the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats, which was also endorsed by the UK-wide executive committee of LGBT+ Liberal Democtats on 17th February 2015, to the above consultation. In light of the fact that this response is being sent to the headquarters of just one of the Assembly parties and not to a Department as with most public consultations we have also sent copies to the other parties and individuals represented in both Stormont and Westminster.

Question 1 Do you believe that it would be appropriate to amend the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 as proposed in Appendix 1 to ensure that individuals are not put in a position where as a result of this legislation they are forced to choose between either acting in violation of their faith conscience, by affirming same-sex relationships, or losing their livelihood?

No

The Liberal Democrats believe that nobody should be enslaved by conformity. This consultation sets out only a limited definition of faith conscience and ignores those of faith who are supportive of LGBT members and indeed wish to carry out same-sex marriage. Therefore it is assuming all religious believe conforms to one way of thinking on the issues over sexual orientation and enslaves some faith groups, prohibiting their freedom of religion as an outworking of this clause and other actions taken to prevent greater equality in sexual orientation issues rather than their lessening as this clause lays out.

None of the same sex marriage legislation debated in Westminster, Holyrood or Stormont failed to recognise the fact that faith groups should have the decision in their own hands as to whether to affirm such same-sex relationships. Indeed this clause appears to be primarily, from the narrative that accompanies it, against legislation that the party of the member opposed which actually included an inbuilt conscience clause when being debated before the Assembly. It does not allow a freedom of religious conscience for faith groups who wish to carry out same sex marriages and are supportive of it the same freedom of conscience that it is placing on a narrow definition of “religious conscience”.

The fact that the Bill seeks to append this conscience clause only to sexual orientation regulations shows it is not a full religious conscience clause as it is only targeting one type of equality. Faith is already protected within the Equality Act and faith organisations and their related groups, unless they exist solely for commercial purposes are already exempt from the sexual orientation regulations.

Indeed as well as the exemptions stated in the Equality Act for religious organisations there are also already exemptions for religious organisation from portions of employment and tax law. The formation of law in this country has a long tradition of not impinging on religious organisations to operate in a different way to the rest of civic society.

Question 2 Is it appropriate that goods and services legislation should be applied in such a way that it narrows diversity and choice for service users who wish to access a service in the context of a faith/particular faith ethos?

Unsure (because of the very poor wording of the question)

The wording of this question seems to think that diversity and choice is narrowed for those of faith. As far as we are aware no store or service provider in Northern Ireland is allowed to turn away someone of faith. However, what this clause is seeking to do is allow people of a particular faith ethos to turn away people because of their same sex behaviour or belief in sexual orientation equality. Therefore the narrowing of diversity or choice is going to come if this clause impacts upon the Equality Act, something that does not currently exist.

The wording to allow the right to refuse the provision of goods, facilities or services that endorse, promote or facilitate behaviour or beliefs that conflict with strongly held religious beliefs is too wide an area with lack of clarity. Despite protestations from the author of the consultation’s explanation there are situations that this can be used as a means to discrimination.

The clause currently acts to narrow diversity and choice and will lead to an even further narrowing of diversity and choice, possibly even to the point of adverse impact on those it claims to be helping. By only allowing one type of conscience the right to determine what behaviour and beliefs it can refuse it is throwing the equality and protections open to every type of conscience which could lead to discrimination against those of faith, race or allow paedophiles, polygamists or white supremacists the right to exercise their conscience in what they believe to be right.

The reason the Equality Act was created was to ascertain equality to various groups, not the ability for any one of them to gain control over another. Protecting them all from extremes equally. By placing one way of thinking above another as this clause is setting out would be open to challenge from those that do have other world views, something which the courts are likely to uphold.

Question 3 As an example: a recent High Court Judgement means that Northern Ireland’s Catholic adoption agency will now be required to either be willing to act in violation of its faith identity by endorsing same-sex unions and facilitating gay adoption (which means surrendering their faith identity if they wish to continue as a provider), or to cease service provision. Do you think that gay rights are more important than religious rights such that the need to ensure gay couples can access adoption services from every provider should be pressed even when the consequence is to remove from Catholic couples the right to access a Catholic adoption service from anywhere? Is this the right balance or is there a better balance to be struck?

You ask three distinct questions in this question. So we shall have to answer them all separately as the answer, from you list of options, is not the same for all.

No, gay rights are not more important than religious rights but at the same time religious rights are not more important than LGBT rights.

However, when it comes to adoption the most important outcome is not who provides the service but that the child is swiftly moved through the system and placed in a permanent situation as soon as they are released for adoption. The fact that Northern Ireland trails the rest of the UK in both average time and number successfully placed within 12 months is a dire statistic. Maybe this is due to the diversity of provision for the approximately 100 placements a year to such a small population and even smaller potential placement population.

We think we need to look at streamlining adoption services here for the best outcome of the child and not be so hung up about which caring, loving couple, of whatever gender mix, or individual is best placed for the child.

Yes the balance is right to allow both people of faith and same sex couples the right to adopt. There is nothing in the High Court ruling that is cited that will prevent people of faith from adopting. Indeed in the personal experience of one of our members as part of the initial set up of a new scheme, in the past few years, three children were adopted by two couples of faith, from both sides of our community, and those families having gone through the process together are maintaining links. The fact is that some of the children being adopted by same-sex couples will actually being the natural children of one half of the partnership.

But surely the balance must always be on whether a child is placed in a home with parents or a parent that will love it and bring it in a safe and supportive environment.

We are unsure as to whether there is a better balance to be struck as the Adoption and Children Bill has yet to be laid before the Assembly so we do not yet know what balance Northern Ireland is to strike between the issues raised in this question in light of the adjudication of the High Court.

Question 4 How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on human rights?

Negatively
We need only refer you to Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Article 8
Right to respect for private and family life

1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2 There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 9
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1 Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2 Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 10
Freedom of expression

1 Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2 The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

This clause seems to not allow the right of respect for private and family life of all individuals in Northern Ireland. It is allowing one section of society to judge on the family life of some individuals as being something they can take exception to and as a result to lead to them denying good, facilities and services, this is not respect. It seems to seek to the lift the responsibilities that come with freedom of religion which limitations include the protection of rights and freedoms of others. Similarly in the freedom of expression the exercise of the refusal within the clause fails to protect the reputation and rights of others.

As mentioned in question 2 the wording in too vague to ensure that discrimination of LGBT customers or clients will not occur either before or during access to goods, facilities or services. Behaviour is also too inclusive a term and may range from holding hands, kissing or acting flirtatiously something that mixed sex couple may well be free to engage in within the same setting.

Also in a nation obsessed from symbols does the wearing of a rainbow flag label badge, or pride t-shirt fall within promotion? Something that an individual may not even have consciously thought about but someone with “strongly held religious beliefs” under this wording could take exception to.

Question 5 How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on equality of opportunity?

Negatively

By opening up the Equality Act to conscience objection a whole can of worms can be opened and other forms of conscience will demand the same right to opt out of the Equality Act in part as this is doing. The end result would be no protection under the equality and much of our laws will be unenforceable once people claim their conscience allows them to take whatever course of action they choose.

The potential is also there that if introduced the right of individual conscience could be cited as a defence in a court of law on matters probably not intended by the drafter of the motion. With the wording of this bill it may prove difficult for a prosecutor to successful retort this claim as individuality of conscience would have been unleased into the realm of defence against actions undertaken.

As pointed out in the answer to question 4 regarding the Human Rights Act with the freedoms that the people of this nation have fought so hard to defend and protect through the years and two World Wars come responsibilities. Those responsibilities do not allow us to treat those with whom we have a different stand point to as inferior. Nor those that do not fit into our worldview norm. If we do we are treading unto a slippery slope such as the Cultural Revolution in China, the pogroms of Russia, the ethnic cleansing of the Balkans. Or the development of a supremacist way of viewing an elite such as in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

Question 6 Do you have any comments on the likely cost / financial implications of the proposed legislation?

In question 5 we mentioned the fact that numerous challenges from people of consciences not covered by this conscience clause will probably result. As these would have to be challenges through legal channels the costs in legal fees alone will probably be substantial. Protecting one type of conscience in a pluralist society could lead to all manner of law suits against all manner of decisions made by the Northern Ireland Assembly, when it contravenes a different vision of conscience.

In light of the many court decisions that DUP ministers have lost in terms of equality and potentially opening the NI Assembly to the expense that has been accrued there while they are looking to tighten the budget is not fiscally sound.

Question 7 Do you have any other comments on the proposed draft legislation? Would you suggest any further amendments?

Making a clause 16A when clause 16 relates to faith bodies (ie churches and charities thereof) when the provisions deal mainly with goods, facilities and services which come in clause 5 is sloppy legislative drafting and misplacing of the concerns. The fact that this claims to be about freedom of conscience for people of faith, yet is solely attached to sexual orientation regulations and not to other issues that people may have religious conscience objection to shows it up as clearly anti-LGBT and not pro-faith. Especially as those faith groups that are supportive of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage have so far not had their freedom of faith recognised in Northern Ireland.

The examples used, in the narrative of this consultation as to what the clause would and would not apply to seem far from the realities of life for most LGBT people in Northern Ireland. The issue of accommodation in a B&B could for example be expanded to include landlords or mortgage providers. Would a Christian landlord or mortgage provider for example be allowed to turn out an LGBT person because allowing them to use their service or accommodation would be facilitating same sex behaviour? Some taxi drivers in Belfast have already been known to turn out young LGBT couples on their way home from the City Centre to Elms Village because of their “behaviour” this would be allowed as a result of the clause, but is putting public safety at risk.

The long overdue and long promised sexual orientation strategy would surely have provided a framework within which such issues should have been addressed. The failure of OFMDFM to produce and implement this document after almost a decade since it was first raised has led to uncertainty within the LGBT community.

Therefore, instead of pursuing this needless piece of discriminatory legislation we call upon the DUP to call on OFMDFM to publish the Sexual Orientation Strategy by the end of this year.

Stephen Glenn
Membership and Policy Officer
Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats

Executive Committee Member
LGBT+ Liberal Democrats

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No evidence for NI upholding Blood Ban

The Department of Health, Social Services and Personal Safety have revealed in a Freedom of Information request to the BBC that former Minister Edwin Poots and current Minister Jim Wells have not had any medical evidence to support the continuation of the lifetime blood donation ban for men who’ve had sex with other men (MSM).

After spending over £40,000 of tax payers money to appeal Lord Justice Treacy’s ruling that maintaining the ban was irrational this is galling news. We have ministers elsewhere having to make cuts to public spending when the DHSSPS have been frivolously throwing it away on this court case. Without scientific evidence what other basis could there be for the DUP Ministers in the Department continuing on a path that diverges from the other three health ministers in the UK? Even the minister in the Republic of Ireland has said he is considering following GB in lifting the lifetime ban.

The only reason that not one but two DUP ministers can have reached the same “decision” is that they are prejudiced in some way towards bisexual and gay men (even those who only had a brief dalliance with another man in their youth). This is nothing new for the DUP but it is becoming a worn record. I say it once again without any evidence this is institutionalised homophobia. There is an irrational fear amongst the DUP about all things LGBT, the latest incarnation of which is the conscience clause that would allow that institutionalised homophobia to spread out into shops, businesses and services.

The Liberal Democrats believe in factual based policy forming. There are no facts to uphold this policy of the DUP, there is indeed evidence that increasing the blood donation pool as in England, Wales and Scotland would have benefits in volume of units available with negligible increased risk, and even that risk is decreasing all the time with advances in testing.

Yesterday we learned that in Canada where there is a ban on giving blood for transfusion, MSM can donate blood for medical research. Which when you think that the point of donating blood is to save lives is still a valid reason for donation. It is one way that the DUP could allow the conscience of MSM who want to help others through blood donation, even if a referral period were to be introduced.

In the meantime we leave you with this thought from TVs own Dr Christian Jessen

Dr Christian

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New term, same old prejudice

The MLAs are back up on the hill but already the list of motions and proposed amendments makes for horrid reading for the LGBT community.

One of North Down’s DUP MLAs Peter Weir on the 1 September one that reads:

Equal Marriage

That this Assembly notes that numerous Motions have reaffirmed that no support exists for the introduction of equal marriage; and agrees that further consideration would be pointless during the remainder of this Assembly term.

In other words seeking to place an almost 2 year petition of concern on any further discussion on the issue until after the elections in May 2016. This would even therefore no doubt continue the DUP’s contempt of judicial process were a legal challenge be raised in Northern Irish courts about the inequality of equal marriages from the rest of the UK being only recognised a civil partnerships here, or the fact that LGBT people here do not have equal access to marriage as the remainder of the UK.

There is also one that is more innocently worded again from Mr Weir and his West Tyrone colleague Tom Buchanan:

Conscience Clause

That this Assembly notes the increasing number of cases across the UK in which the freedom of religion is afforded a lesser priority than other fundamental freedoms; acknowledges that this gradation of fundamental rights often leads to people of faith leaving their employment or being forced out of business; and calls on the Minister for Employment and Learning to bring forward legislation to introduce a conscience clause for people of faith to allow them to exercise religious freedom in the workplace.

This is the oh my god moment, pardon the pun. For a start freedom of religion is not afforded anything less than other freedoms, they are all treated equally. But the wording of this clause is to make freedom of religion superior to all others. Allowing people of faith the ability of exercise their religious freedom in the workplace means that small business owners could because of the loose wording of this proposal refuse to serve people whose lifestyle they disagree with. We all know that this will not necessarily affect unmarried heterosexuals in the same way that it will affect homosexuals. If two men or women walk in together some of those who cry out about their religious freedom are far more likely to turn them away than two people of opposite sex.

This is further backed up by another DUP motion in the name of Paul Girvan (Lagan valley) and Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) which names a specific high profile case of the above:

Reasonable Accommodation in Equality Legislation

That this Assembly notes with concern the action taken by the Equality Commission against Ashers Bakery; and calls for a review of equality legislation that will provide reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of service providers in the provision of goods, services and facilities.

The fact is that of course initially this business took and order then under discussion turned it down. The proximity of a bakery to the city centre must surely mean that they must get all manner of requests for custom cakes for organisations based in the city centre does Ashers have to agree with the aims of every one of them before taking an order? This is company who has claimed that they faith is paramount yet while their shops themselves are closed on a Sunday in respect of their faith their products are available in Garden Centres and shops that do open on a Sunday with their branding on them. But it is another call for a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs again against only one other minority sector as laid out in Section 75.

Of course all of these have merely been laid before the business committee there is no date for when or even if they will come before the committee but there are three direct attacks on the LGBT community one clear it its intention that no matter what progress may be made elsewhere on equal marriage there is no way that the DUP is going to allow legislation to move on before 2016.

The other two are more thinly veiled but a reading between the lines of them shows what their intent is. The conscience clause was mentioned in light of the Ashers case and it was clear that the DUP spokespeople wanted to have religious freedom usurp equality irregardless of sexual orientation.

So there are three motions laid down by members of the DUP that aim to either place religion above the rights of LGBT people to be treated equally, and in one a way to stifle debate for 2 years on an issue that is fast changing across the USA and the world as we speak. The continuation of the DUP to institutionalise their homophobia through the niceties of Assembly procedure and their veiled attempt to bring in animal farm style all freedoms are equal but some are more equal than others is a horrifying read in this the 21st Century.

 

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Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, faith, homophobia, NI Assembly, Stormont

Unionists make one a day less equal in Northern Ireland

Yesterday the Government announced that there had been 1409 same-sex marriages in the first 3 months since the legislation came into force in England and Wales allowing them to happen.

As we have mentioned many times in the past it has been the unionist politicians who have blocked similar legislation coming into force here in Northern Ireland. So how many have been affected here as a result of their intransigence?

Looking at the 2011 Census there were 1.81 million people here in Northern Ireland, this compares to 53 million in England and 3.06 million in Wales. So that gives us a formula of:

Equal Marriage sumsIn other words there could have been an extra 45.5 marriages in Northern Ireland, which would equate to 182 over a year affecting 364 people. That is one person for every day of the year that the unionists are denying the right to be married and equally British because of the sexual orientation, their choice of life partner and location of where they live.

So with every day that passes we are really adding one more person who currently is less equal that if they life in England and Wales, once similar legislation comes into place in Scotland it will mean that that individual is falling behind the whole of the UK. If the referendum in Ireland leads to it south of the border it will from everywhere surrounding us.

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High Court ruling on blood ban welcome

Today in the High Court in Belfast, Mr Justice Traecy ruled that Health Minister Edwin Poots continuation of the lifetime ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) was “irrational”. He also ruled that the Minster had broken the ministerial code in coming to his conclusion.

Speaking about the decision LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland co-ordinator Stephen Glenn said:

“The Liberal Democrats across the UK have long been campaigning for a science based approach to blood donation, not one based on fear at the initial outbreak of HIV in the 80s. The party is also campaigning for a policy that is based on sexual practice rather that tarring of an entire sexual orientation even in light of the 12 month referral period.

“This decision should pave the way for bi-sexual men who are in long term heterosexual relationships, men who experimented with men in their distant pass or long term celibate gay men to be able to give blood based on the safe practices of their current lifestyle.

“The decision today from Mr Justice Traecy shows that the decision made by the Health Minister was not based on science provided by The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) or any other agency but on personally held beliefs. Such a basis for policy making has made Northern Ireland isolated in the UK and appear backward.

“I hope that Mr Poots will accept this decision from the court and take the approach he followed when the High Court ruled against him on the case of same-sex couples adopting. We cannot afford for the Minister to take another appeal to the Supreme Court because he has not got a legal ruling he agrees with.”

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Survey shows support for marriage equality in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) survey published today shows support across most sectors of Northern Ireland for marriages between same-sex couples to be recognised as valid. It found that overall 57% of people were in favour, 32% against and only 11% having no opinion.

But when you drilled down through the numbers the only age bracket were largest selection were opposed to same-sex marriage was the over 65s as shown in the graph below. Indeed support of those under 55 over more than two people are in favour for every one against (indeed it is closer to three to one of those with an opinion).

Life and Times survey

While every age group of working age has a majority in favour it is only those over 65 that have a majority against this sort of thing. Even there it is less than two to one.

When it comes to religious affiliation those who identify as Catholic are 65% in favour with 23% against, and As Protestant it is 44% for and 45% against.  Those with no religion are split 75% to 22%.

Now seeing as both the Roman Catholic Church and the main Protestant denomination are both as adamantly opposed as each other why are these figures so different.

Unionist politicians are claiming that there is a clear majority against this sort of thing in Northern, this survey shows that is quite clearly not the case. Indeed within the heartland of their own vote their slim claim is within the margin of error.

Therefore would it be too forward to suggest that the rhetoric of unionist politicians instead of reflecting public opinion is actually helping to shape it on the protestant side? This may well be the case. Even with all that rhetoric there are almost as many of those who identify as Protestant supporting same-sex marriage as are opposed. They are not reflecting the views of the denomination that they belong to, nor the politicians that claim to represent them. 

So why with only a sprinkling of notable exceptions do the politicians who identify as Protestant not split almost 50/50 when it comes to vote on same-sex marriage? In Westminster only Naomi Long in the Commons voted in favour and the in the Lords it was 9 against and 6 for. While in the Assembly only eight out of a total of 62 self-identifying Protestants have ever voted for marriage equality. These figures are far from a true reflection according to the NILT survey.

However, next time you hear any Northern Irish politician say that the overwhelming majority of people are against equal marriage, while that may be true of their mail bag or email inbox it would appear not to be a true reflection. It is time for politicians to get beyond the cries of upset that drown out the silent majority in favour of Northern Ireland moving with the rest of the UK on this issue.

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Constitutional Convention gives backing to Equal Marriage

So the news today is that the Constitution Convention for Ireland decided with 79 votes in favour to 18 against to recommend to the Oireachtas that a referendum be placed before Irish Citizens over the issue of marriage equality.

If the people of the 26 counties of the Irish Republic vote in favour of allowing their fellow citizens the right to marriage equality, they did allow civil partnerships like those in the UK only 2 years ago, Northern Ireland will stick out as a sore thumb in these isles. The Good Friday Agreement, and the subsequent Northern Ireland Act, allows all people to identify as British or Irish or both. It also recognises that there is diversity in our society that all groups whether Unionist or Nationalist, racial minorities, the disabled, victims of the troubles, women, those with children and those without and those who are LGBT to co-exist and not be discriminated against (under Section 75).

However, Northern Ireland by not recognising equal marriages and merely reducing them to the level of Civil Partnerships is failing to allow LGBT married people to identify as either fully British or fully Irish should legislation be passed in the Republic, England, Wales and Scotland. There is a possibility that there will be discriminatory practices in place and in action against those marriages carried out in either the rest of the UK or rest of the island of Ireland.

In light of this latest development the Northern Ireland Assembly has to at least look at the recognition of samee-sex marriages carried out elsewhere being recognised in Northern Ireland. But more so those who are putting their own personal views ahead of the good of the population as a whole need to understand that representative government means they have to represent.

Equal marriage does not harm anybody. It actually promotes monogamy in a part of society that those most ardently against believe is totally promiscuous. So are the people in the unionist parties (as it is largely them) who object to marriage equality actually doing so for the wider good of society? I don’t think so. Indeed some of them have on issues of equality said they are not elected to represent all parts of society. Well so much for cohesion, sharing and integration.

As Liberal Democrats we have helped bring the subject of marriage equality to the point of becoming legislation in England, Scotland and Wales. We have also worked with Northern Irish parties and individuals to bring it to the political agenda here and we will continue to do so until we have the same rights to marriage as the rest of the UK and indeed the island of Ireland.

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In response to Dr Hazlett Lynch

Those of us in Northern Ireland who read the Newsletter letters page are well aware of Dr J E Hazlett Lynch. He makes another appearance in today’s letters page with the following:

MAY I use your columns to ask if anyone knows what the position of the churches is after the close victory in the Assembly (50:45) in favour of the traditional view of marriage?

I know that some of those politicians who voted against marriage as understood in the scriptures and who abstained or absented themselves from that vote claim to be church members.

Do the churches of which these politicians are members still hold to the biblical understanding of marriage and, if so, are they prepared to tolerate those within their membership who have publicly either voted against and undermined church teaching and/or absented/abstained from the vote?

What steps will churches take to discipline those who acted thus?

There have been many cases in ecclesiastical history that the church has taken different views on a number of issues. Something that an historian like Dr Lynch should be aware of. The abolition of slavery, universal suffrage for women and before that female property rights and mixed race marriage; all have these have seen Christians on different sides of the argument. Here in Northern Ireland we even saw one Christian side gerrymandering election districts to keep the other out as recently as the 1960s and 70s at the behest of their Churches. Also one of our Churches leaders as an elected representative to the European Parliament was ejected for calling the Pope the anti-Christ as recently as 1988. So when we call for our politicians to follow the

Indeed if any lesson should be drawn from history it is this pastor from a church in Missouri recently.

So in answer to Dr Lynch’s question there hasn’t been an established church in the island of Ireland since 1871 and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. So the church does not have a direct role in the government of our nation.  We also have The Agreement which sets out a number of freedoms which include:

Human Rights
1. The parties affirm their commitment to the mutual respect, the civil
rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community. Against
the background of the recent history of communal conflict, the parties
affirm in particular:

• the right of free political thought;
• the right to freedom and expression of religion;
• the right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations;
• the right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means;
• the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity;

That right to free political thought applies to members of churches as much as the non-churched. There is also a freedom and expression of each individual’s religion, which includes to what extent they separate their personal faith from their public responsibilities. This may be the issue that Dr Lynch cannot comprehend, it is possible to have a faith yet listen to the needs and wants of those that do not share that faith, or even just one interpretation of that faith, and come to a conclusion of what is best that isn’t solely blinkered by one’s religious world view.

What Dr Lynch and many others who take the view that those of faith betrayed their faith missed from the motion was that there was a call for strong protection to be put into legislation so that those who held a particular faith few that was contrary would not be persecuted for disagreeing. Therefore managing to cover a number of the freedoms listed above, ironically while also supporting possibly the position of their own faith group while voting in favour of equal marriage.

Of course there are biblical laws on all sorts of issues including adultery that result in a death penalty, yet we don’t follow all those rulings from Leviticus and Deuteronomy to the letter. Yet I don’t see cries for church discipline to be brought in for those other underminings of the tradition view of marriage, just to keep it in context.

However, the myopia of Dr Lynch over the way the motion was worded does not prevent him calling on those who have exercised both their freedom of political thought to have the same bearing as their freedom to expression of religion. He is saying that the latter should take precedence over the former when to govern fully both need their freedom, something that the original motion did take into consideration.

That my dear Doctor is my response to you on this issue.

 

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